A Side Door To Corruption

Some years ago, I remember listening to a comedy skit by Bill Cosby in which he rather savagely made fun of his son when talking about how much money it would take in a donation for that son (who was later killed during my teenage years) and the amounts were staggering.  They have probably gone up considerably, inflation having affected the price of college education to a high degree.  While Bill Cosby (even before his spectacular fall from grace) was by no means a populist sort of person, the comedy bit that made fun of the poor grades of his son was a joke that depended on the audience’s ability to understand that there were at least two ways to get into college, a front door that was dependent on one’s own achievements and attributes and a back door that required a high amount of donations from very wealthy people.  It’s not hard to look at your wallet and bank account statement to know where you stand in this, whether you have to try to succeed on your own merits or whether you have millions or tens of millions of dollars to donate so that your children can benefit from your largess.

For a variety of reasons, I have written a lot about the corruption of the university system.  For one, I happen to be someone who spent a great deal of my young adulthood there obtaining a bachelor’s degree and two master’s degrees at three separate institutions, experiencing residential college life at a prestigious private university, a master’s degree program at a public commuter school, and another master’s degree program that was mostly online with a very small residency requirement in summer in Vermont.  The fact that I am still paying for this education and will be for the foreseeable future also keeps the matter in mind.  Another reason that has led me to write often about various forms of corruption at the university level is because there is a lot of corruption to write about.  A recent scandal implicating CEOs, actresses, test administrators, and various university personnel at prestigious universities has demonstrated that in addition to the front door of entering college on one’s own merits, a very competitive endeavor these days [1], and the very expensive back door of being a massive donor to educational institutions, a soon-to-be-defunct business sought to provide a side door into college through bribes and crony capitalism.

Reading about such corruption has the tendency to inflame the populist tendencies of most of us who do not spring from particularly elite status.  Most of us who sought (and gained) entry to prestigious universities and programs as a result of our own merits are fairly quick to point out our own impoverished backgrounds and our commitment and drive to succeed and gain an education and seek to enjoy a lifestyle that was commensurate with our God-given gifts of reason and intellect.  No one wants to hear that sort of virtue signalling, but the temptation to share that we were worthy even if others were not is great.  I find it deeply intriguing that universities consider themselves to be innocent victims in this.  They are not.  One of the entries into college education, the back door of endowment funds in the seven and eight-figure level, is corrupt without question, although the sort of corruption that allows elite universities to claim that they are not-for-profit while aggressively dealing with immensely wealthy endowments that effectively remove them from pressure to kow-tow to anyone else’s views of how their university should be run.  Even the front door into college is corrupt to the extent that universities have different scales that allow them to make it harder for entry to undesirable but talented potential students (Asians and Jews have traditionally faced these sorts of semi-official quotas), but lower standards that help the university gain ethnic and geographical diversity or fill out their athletic squads.  The side door is corrupt, and to the extent that universities and their officials get money to engage in bribery schemes or scholarship fraud, there should be consequences for it.

What ideal sort of punishment would exist for this depends on what is uncovered in what is likely to be a lengthy and deeply embarrassing investigation.  To be sure, universities are likely to toss a few sacrificial lambs to the slaughter in the hopes of keeping out the pitchfork-wielding mobs of peasants from the university gates (something my alma mater in the University of Southern California is all too familiar with).  Whether or not universities will be able to dodge responsibility for a massive scandal is unclear–it is quite possible that admissions faculty were in on the scam as well, and that might jeopardize financial aid for institutions caught up in the snare.  Some athletic programs might be put on probation or face various penalties as a result of scholarship fraud to the extent that they did not exercise due diligence in sniffing out bogus attempts for the scions of wealthy cultural and economic elite families to pass themselves off as athletes in scholarship sports.  Some coaches might be fired, some test administrators might be embarrassed and removed from their positions and publicly shamed.  Life will go on for most people, especially those who are able to lay low.  And as long as wealthy and powerful people will want guarantees that their drooling and mouth-breathing offspring will have guarantees to enter elite schools and engage in the networking that allows for elite status to be conferred on generation after generation, we can expect some sort of corrupt side door or window entry to be available so long as everyone involved is willing and able to be discreet.  After all, the worth of elite education in providing one with the credentials and connections one needs to succeed in our crony society will encourage people to refuse to accept competitive entry when that elite status for one’s precious children is at stake.  In such an environment, cynicism seems inevitable.  How educational institutions will wish to rebuild the trust of a cynical populace is something I do not pretend to guess at, if they even care to keep up appearances of meritocracy at this point.

[1] The competitive nature of entering college is something that I have noted despite the fact that I have no children who are involved in it.  In the same building where I work there is a business called Saturday Academy whose students and employees I sometimes run into, occasionally unlocking the building for them on Sundays when they are unable to get inside and I happen to be around.  This particular academy offers various courses for students to take on the weekend in order to boost their merits relative to other students, mostly from a South and East Asian and white demographic from what I can see, and these are children who are highly motivated to learn and want to go to the best schools and enjoy a life of professional incomes in STEM fields.  More power to them.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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2 Responses to A Side Door To Corruption

  1. Catharine Martin says:

    What surprises me is how shocked people are about this newest scandal. Special favors for the wealthy and well-connected have been a mainstay in the American lifestyle since its inception. It is nice (and perhaps lucky or Providential?) that your admission was gained through honest means but, knowing how politics and money grease the wheel, I’ve been left to wonder how many others can say the same.

    • Yeah, I have to say that a great many people have likely benefited from corruption, and sadly such corruption tends to make it easy to be cynical about anyone involved with such elite institutions.

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